By Mike London
SALISBURY — Spring is always the leanest time of year for a Division II football program, with last fall’s seniors relegated to cheering duties and the last batch of rookies still attending their proms of high school.
The show must go on, but without enough linemen on the roster to put on a full “spring match,” Catawba wrapped up spring drills on a cold Saturday with “mostly situational stuff,” as put it. said head coach Curtis Walker.
“It was more like spring training or a spring scrimmage than a spring game,” said Walker, who guided the Indians to a 5-4 record last fall. “We did a lot of good work and we were able to do it in a very competitive atmosphere. But we had to be smart about what we did with the number of linemen we had. The good news is that we were able to stay healthy.
Saturday’s situational action on Kirkland Field at Shuford Stadium began with Catawba working on opening scenarios.
The Indians staged several standard rounds of attack against defense.
They worked on red zone situations, a strength for the defense last season.
They worked on two-minute drills.
Catawba’s MVP multiple times last season was outstanding punter/kicker Clayton Crile. It was feared that he would participate in a Division I program, but he is enjoying his time at Catawba. Crile showed off his prodigious footwork on Saturday and, with the wind behind him, threw a basket a record distance.
The quarterback position is still paramount and Catawba will have a new one. Walker was impressed this spring by Preston Brown, who was traded from the Charlotte 49ers.
Brown isn’t the ideal size, but he’s mobile and sturdy.
“He’s fit, he’s put together, and while he might not be the biggest, he’ll have one of the biggest arms in our conference,” Walker said. “He got most of the reps this spring and held on. He has an opportunity here, and he realizes it, but he hasn’t taken anything for granted. He showed he could throw and he showed he would stand in the pocket and throw the ball.
While Brown will be the frontrunner in the fall, there are plenty of QB contests going on. That includes Kam Hill, a vaunted Reagan High rookie, as well as three other transfers. New coach QB Jake Medlock’s quarterback room, empty not so long ago, will be full.
Center Cameron Ivey-Young leads the offensive line. That hasn’t changed this spring. Young guys Kanyon James (6-3, 290) and Zach Brown (6-2, 270) have made great strides.
“Brown had a fantastic first week, just came out on fire and really moved people,” Walker said. “James has worked as a guard and tackle and has the skills to play in both positions. He looked good.
Running backs Jyrea Martin and Daniel Parker bumped into each other last fall, but both are much healthier now.
“They’ve had the rough yards all spring,” Walker said.
Leroy Bracey Jr. is another name to know when it comes to backs. He’s gone from slot receiver to running back and has game-changing speed. He broke 30 and 40 yard runs on Saturday.
“Not big, but lightning fast,” Walker said.
Catawba is deep at the tight end. Kobe Christian stood out this spring
So did receivers Jaden Lockhart and Willie “Pooh” Brantley.
“These two found a rhythm and became playmakers,” Walker said. “They have speed and they made athletic holds.”
Brantley had a 48-yard touchdown on Saturday.
It could be a strong receiving corps, as Kujuan Pryor returns and has already proven himself to be a huge threat. Sprinter Rasheed Singleton has made some spring progress.
“Pryor had a long run on a backhand on Saturday as well as a big third strike,” Walker said. “Singleton can get down on the pitch and has started to spread his wings.”
The defense had its moments during spring drills and again on Saturday.
Mike Jones, a growing young defensive lineman, made several sacks and tackles for the loss on Saturday, while Semaj Johnson is thriving after moving from defensive end to a more inside role.
Former East Rowan star Christian Bennett has been a standout all spring as a linebacker.
“He’s a veteran now and he’s become a leader of this group,” Walker said. “His experience is starting to show. He made a lot of plays on Saturday.
Bryan Stewart, a Robinson High youngster from Concord, has proven to be an exciting prospect in the defensive backfield.
Calvin “CJ” Stephens, a veteran DB who came to Catawba from Chowan, made one of the plays of the day on Saturday when he caught one of Brown’s passes during a two-minute drill.
The Indians got their jobs, they stayed healthy and they will welcome a number of award-winning signings this summer.
Walker is confident the team is thriving.
Walker’s youngest son, Deuce, ran a hand-timed 100-meter under-11 at a recent meet and is doing great things for the Salisbury High track team.
Walker’s eldest son, Jalon, one of the nation’s most famous 2021 linebacker rookies, is graduating from Salisbury at the end of the fall semester, is enrolled at the University of Georgia and will compete in the annual Red Game. -Black Spring Game between the hurdles at Sanford Stadium.
He created a lot of buzz during spring training in Athens with his unusual combination of height, speed and footballing IQ.
This match is scheduled for Saturday, April 16.
“From Salisbury High to National Champions,” said Coach Walker. “It’s going to be exciting to see Jalon live against the big guys for the first time.”